Barack Obama Writes Editorial in Kenyan Newspaper

Democratic candidate for US President, Barack Obama, has written an editorial in one of Kenya’s most prominent newspapers addressing the dire situation there, the catalyst for which were disputed elections that took place in late December. Obama, who has family ties to that African country, wrote that Kenya had reached a “defining moment” on its road to democratic consolidation. Here is a snippet and a link to the full text of the opinion piece.

Clearly, Kenya has reached a defining moment. It is up to Kenyan leaders and the Kenyan population to turn away from the path of bloodshed, division, and repression, and to turn towards reconciliation, negotiation, and renewed commitment to democratic governance. There is no doubt that there were serious flaws in the process by which presidential votes were tabulated. There is also no doubt that actions taken by both sides in the aftermath of the election have deepened the stalemate.

But Kenya’s hard-won democracy and precious national unity can be salvaged. Now is the time for all parties to renounce violence. And now is the time for President Kibaki, Raila Odinga, and all of Kenya’s leaders, to calm tensions, to come together unconditionally, and to implement a political process that peacefully addresses the controversies that divide them and restores the Kenyan people’s confidence in their political system.

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Congo Civil War Kills 45,000 Persons Monthly

We’ll be covering war and strife later in the semester and we’ll note that the nature of warfare has changed over the years. Whereas most wars in the past were of the inter-state variety, contemporary wars are mostly intra-state (i.e, wars resulting from civil and ethnic conflict). A worrisome characteristic of these contemporary wars is that the vast majority of victims are civilians and they generally succumb to factors, such as disease and hunger, not related to direct conflict. In a new report by the International Red Cross, we learn that 45,000 persons have died (and continue to die) monthly from civil war in Congo.


The effects of one of the bloodiest wars in modern history continue to unfold in relative obscurity in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 5.4 million lives have been lost as a result of conflict since 1998, according to a nationwide mortality survey that will be released today.

While the conflict in the Darfur region of neighbouring Sudan has begun to draw substantial international attention, the humanitarian crisis resulting from conflict in the Congo has received almost none. About 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur, and two million displaced.

“People aren’t dying dramatically in Congo,” said Richard Brennan, a lead researcher with the U.S.-based International Rescue Committee, which conducted the survey. “It’s not like a Rwandan genocide where people die in a very dramatic and acute manner. They are dying quietly and anonymously.”

In fact, very few of the recorded deaths were caused directly by violence, roughly 0.4 per cent nationwide, the report says. Instead, the principal causes of death across Congo, a largely undeveloped country the size of Western Europe, were malnutrition, preventable diseases and pregnancy-related conditions.
“Our experience in poorly developed countries over the last 20 years is that in most conflicts, the majority of deaths, frequently over 90 per cent, are due to the indirect consequences of that conflict,” Dr. Brennan said. “They are no less devastating, but they are very much below our radar screen in the West.”

Kenya, ethnic diversity, and fractionalization scores

Had you taken my Introduction to Comparative Politics class in the fall of 2007, you would have been faced with writing a paper in response to this:

There is much debate regarding the determinants of, and obstacles to, democratization. Are states that rely on natural resources for a large share of their GDP less likely to become and remain democratic? Does ethnic diversity present an obstacle to the democratization and democratic consolidation of a regime? Your term paper will answer one of these two questions either in the affirmative or the negative.

In addition to making the theoretical argument, students were asked to use Iraq and one other state to illustrate and support their argument(s). A few students chose to write on Kenya. I hope they go back and read their papers in light of the current situation in that multi-ethnic state.

Is Kenya ethnically diverse? How can we measure ethnic (or religious, or linguistic) diversity? There is a formula called the fractionalization index, which essentially gives us an idea of how diverse a state is. You can find a table–in Appendix A (which I have excerpted here) of over 100 states around the world with their corresponding fractionalization scores (in three categories), in this National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) paper by Alesina et al. here The higher the value the higher the level of diversity. Notice the relatively low diversity of states like Poland and Norway and the high amount of diversity of almost all African states. Which is the best way to measure “diversity”? Ethnically? Linguistically? By religion?

Date (Ethnicity Data)

The State–Weber’s definition, the role of legitimacy & Iraq

The state is an important concept in politics, and it is often one that is difficult to grasp for many students new to the study of comparative politics. Probably the most studied work on the state is that of German social scientist Max Weber, who in a lecture given in 1918 (which would eventually be published in 1919 under the name “The Politics of Vocation”) set out a formal definition of the state, and demonstrated the link between that and what is called “legitimacy”.

Below the fold, I’ll provide what I consider to be the crucial part of Weber’s lecture, with an assessment of how this relates to the contemporary situation in Iraq below:
Continue reading “The State–Weber’s definition, the role of legitimacy & Iraq”

Ethnic Cleansing and Violence in Baghdad

The Washington Post carries a story on the front page of its Sunday edition, which describes the changing nature of residential segregation in Baghdad, from the perspective of returning refugees and displaced persons. Included is a compelling map [click the link on the left for a larger view] of Baghdad showing the dynamics of the process of ethnic cleansing (and ethnic consolidation) of Baghdad’s map_ethnic_cleansing_baghdad.gifneighborhoods between April 2006 and November 2007.

This could have something to do with the decreasing levels of violence in Baghdad over the last six months or so. (Of course, the increased US troop presence helps, but a more compelling argument comes out of work by many political scientists on the rational, or strategic, nature of inter-ethnic violence. The violence that is perpetrated by the respective sides during episodes of inter-ethnic conflict is rarely random.

In my own work in Croatia, there was a compelling strategic logic to the violence perpetrated by both sides. Territory–towns, regions, cities, etc.,–that was deemed strategically important was targeted, while territory that was not strategically important was left alone. A similar dynamic may be occurring in Baghdad. With the task of segregation of Baghdad’s neighborhoods a fait accompli, the need and desire, on the part of the sectarian militias, to use violence has diminished considerably.